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NBA AM: Gallinari on the Road to Recovery

Danilo Gallinari discusses his health and timetable for return while attending adidas Eurocamp in Italy. … Does staying in Minnesota make sense for Kevin Love?

Jesse Blancarte

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Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari talks about his re-hab, getting healthy and what he expects from the Nuggets next season.

Danilo Gallinari Stops by adidas Eurocamp While Rehabbing From Knee Surgery

On April 5, 2013 the Denver Nuggets announced that Danilo Gallinari had torn his ACL playing against the Dallas Mavericks. Gallinari underwent surgery to repair his meniscus, but the surgeons did not repair his ACL, believing it would heal on it’s own. Unfortunately, Gallinari’s ACL did not heal, and he underwent another surgery on January 21, 2014 to reconstruct the torn ligament.

On Monday, Basketball Insiders caught up with Gallinari at adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy to see how his rehab is progressing.

“The body is very good,” Gallinari said. “We are four months out of the last surgery right now, so it’s going to be an interesting summer to recover, especially mentally because the body is feeling pretty good now. I got to get back on the floor and get back and feel the ball, and one-on-one and the five-on-five, so it’s going to be a working summer.”

When asked how it feels to be back on the court, going through basketball drills and exercises, Gallinari said: “It feels great, to have the chance to do what you do everyday, what you love to do everyday, and to not be able to do it for more than one year has been frustrating, but now I can do it, I’m back on the court and it feels great.”

Though he has been on the sideline for over a year, Gallinari has found other ways to improve his game, including how to take care of his body.

“I think that I am much better because you have the chance to focus on other things on the basketball court and maybe when you are playing you don’t do that much, but I think that that part has always been in my nature, always been in my repertoire, so I’ve been feeling pretty good with that,” Gallinari said. “But you have the chance to improve in some part of the game, not just the game, but some part of the body that you didn’t work before. I had the chance to know the knees, both knees a little bit better, to work on the muscles that I didn’t even know that I had those muscles before, so you have the chance to know your body better.”

The process to get back on the court has been long for Gallinari. However, he stays motivated by understanding that a career in the NBA does not last forever.

“I think you only have one life,” Gallinari said. “You only live one life. The basketball career, the average in the NBA is five years, but let’s say that you play a lot of years, or that you play 10 years in the NBA, that’s a small window. In that small window you got to give everything you got, because you don’t want to get old and think about the past, ‘that I should have done this,’ ‘I could have done this,’ so you want to do everything right now.”

At just 25, Gallinari still has time to make the most of that small window. He is surrounded by a lot of other young, talented players who will collectively try to make it back to the playoffs next season after finishing eleventh in the Western Conference this year. Gallinari believes that if the Nuggets can overcome their injury problems, they will be a very competitive team next season.

“I think that we can be a very good team, if we have a healthy team we can be very good,” Gallinari said. “We had a strange season with all these injuries than ever happened I think in the history of the NBA. It’s going to be an interesting year. Everybody is very excited in Denver. I’m excited, all my teammates are excited because we know that we have a good team and we have a chance to shock somebody and our goal is to make it to the playoffs in the best position we can.”

Injuries were the main problem for Denver last season, however, another issue was adjusting to rookie head coach Brian Shaw and his system. Gallinari believes having a year of experience under Shaw will pay off moving forward.

“It’s going to be very helpful,” Gallinari said. “I think he’s a great coach and he showed to us and everybody this year, and everybody loves him. He’s a player’s coach, he’s very close to us. You can talk to him about everything you want, and he’s very close to players and everybody loves to play for him and so that’s one of the most important things. That’s one of the reasons why we are very excited to start training camp.”

For now Gallinari is back home in Treviso, taking in the adidas Eurocamp.

“I think it’s a great opportunity every year, and especially to be back home is great,” Gallinari said. “To see friends, especially to see the young kids growing every year, the level is great and so to have the chance to represent adidas, not just all over the world, but especially in Italy, in Treviso where was one of the first places where Eurocamp was based on is a great opportunity, not just for adidas, and for all these kids, but also for me. To learn about them, to teach them a little bit and to follow them in the process, and also to work with my adidas family, that is always great to travel around the world with them every summer.”

The Nuggets sorely missed Gallinari this season as he is one of the most versatile forwards in the league. Hopefully his rehab continues to progress smoothly so he can help Denver get back to the playoffs, and so he can get back to making the most of his window of time in the NBA.


Blazers forward Nic Batum talks about the season, his team and what he is working on this summer.

Does Staying In Minnesota Make Sense For Love?

Last week, Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio said that he would like to speak directly to Kevin Love about Love’s desire to be traded. Rubio stated that the team had gotten better each year since his rookie season, and Love leaving would undo all that progress. In addition, team president and new head coach Flip Saunders told KFAN 100.3 in Minneapolis-St.Paul that Love did not have the right to be frustrated.

“Just like I told (Kevin) Garnett, he didn’t have a right to be frustrated,” said Saunders. “Why does any player have a right to be frustrated? You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. Should the team be frustrated? Yeah, the team can be frustrated. But I don’t think any one individual should be frustrated.”

Do Rubio and Saunders have a point then? Is Minnesota progressing, and can Love be part of the solution towards towards breaking the Timberwolves’ 10-year playoff drought?

Rubio joined the team in 2011-12, a season in which the team had increased its win total from the previous by nine games, in a lockout shortened season. Since Rubio’s arrival, the team has gone from 17 wins, up to 40 this season. Thus, it seems Rubio is in fact correct, the team is making progress. Nevertheless, Love has still never reached the playoffs, and that is plenty of reason to be frustrated.

This year’s team was projected to break the 10-year drought and compete for a playoff spot. By the end of the season, the Timberwolves had a +2.7 point differential on the season, better than the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies, all of whom finished ahead of Minnesota in the Western Conference standings (10th in the West). Additionally, the Timberwolves finished 10th in offensive efficiency, and 15th in defensive efficiency. So why did the Timberwolves fall well short of making the playoffs?

Most importantly, the team was inexplicably bad at closing games. After losing to the Raptors on January 17, the Wolves were 0-12 in games decided by five points or less. By the end of the season, the Wolves were 6-14 in games decided by five points or less. Simply put, the Wolves lost too many games in the closing minutes for a multitude of reasons.

Some of the other major issues included an anemic bench, poor rim protection, and poor perimeter shooting. The Minnesota starting lineups ranked seventh in the league in offensive efficiency among starting units, whereas the bench ranked 24th in the league in offensive efficiency among benches, which illustrates how big of a drop off there was when players like Love sat.

In addition, the Wolves were incapable of protecting the rim, allowing opponents to shoot 63.1 percent from within five feet of the basket, and blocking 3.6 shots per game, ranking last in the league in both categories. Neither Love, nor Nikola Pekovic could keep opposing players from attacking and finishing at the rim.

Also, the team made just 600 three pointers on the season (17th best in the league), connecting on only 34.1 percent of their attempts (26th best in the league). Outside of Love and Kevin Martin, no one shot at a particularly high percentage from beyond the arc.

Yet, in spite of all these issues, the roster has a solid foundation, and is  in need of tinkering, rather than a complete overhaul. Rubio is not a top-5 point guard, but he is better than he gets credit for. He will soon start training in Los Angeles with a new shooting coach, addressing the biggest issue in his game. Kevin Martin proved to be everything the Oklahoma City Thunder had originally hoped for when they traded James Harden, a wing scorer (19 points per game) and a lethal three point shooter (38.7 percent from beyond the arc). Corey Brewer is probably best suited as a backup small forward, but he filled in admirably as a starter this season, contributing 12.3 points per game, along with almost two steals and two assists. Nikola Pekovic missed 28 games, but is one of the best offensive centers in league when healthy. He is now backed up by Gorgui Dieng, who showed towards the end of the season that he could be a big time contributor at center moving forward. On March 20, Dieng chipped in 22 points, 21 rebounds, 4 assists and made 10-of-11 from the free throw line. Four days later, Dieng scored 15 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block. Most importantly, Dieng addresses one of the biggest issues for the Wolves, as he is a very capable shot blocker. The team also has the 13th pick in the upcoming draft, where players like Doug McDermott, Nik Stauskas, Rodney Hood, and Zach Lavine could still be available.

Minnesota will need to add players who can knock down open jumpers, such as Anthony Morrow, who is set to be a free agent this offseason. Also, Rubio needs to take the next step in his game and join the upper echelon of point guards. In addition, Dieng needs to turn his flashes of brilliance into consistent production, providing a shot blocker down low, and sub for Pekovic off the bench. Lastly, Saunders needs to get more out of the team’s talent than former head coach Rick Adelman did this past season. The progress needed to end the playoff drought and compete may seem like a lot, but the majority of the necessary pieces are already in place.

For now, all indications are that Love has made up his mind, and a reminder from Rubio about the team’s progress will do little to change that. The frustration and issues go beyond missing the playoffs each season, and a move to teams like the Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics, or Golden State Warriors is simply more appealing to Love at this point. Yet, when considering Rubio’s comment about the team’s progress and taking a look at the pieces already in place, maybe giving the Timberwolves at least one more year makes more sense than Love realizes.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Miami’s Struggles About More than One Player

Drew Maresca assesses the Miami HEAT’s early-season struggles and their statistical slide from the 2019-20 campaign.

Drew Maresca

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The Miami HEAT appeared to successfully turn the corner on a quick rebuild, having advanced to the bubble’s 2020 NBA Finals. It looked as though Miami took a short cut even, rebounding from the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh era incredibly quickly. Ultimately, they did so through smart drafting – including the selections of Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro – plus, a little luck, like the signing of Jimmy Butler and smartly sticking with Duncan Robinson.

But despite the fact that they should have improved from last season, the tide may have turned again in South Beach.

Through 15 games, the HEAT are an underwhelming 6-9 with losses in each of their last two games. Miami is also scoring fewer points per game than last season – 109.3 versus 112  – while giving up more – 113.1 against 109.1.

Miami has played the 14th-toughest schedule in the NBA, and there are some embarrassing and noteworthy loses thus far. They lost by a resounding 47 points to the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this season, with extra harsh defeats of 20 points to the lowly Detroit Pistons and the mediocre Toronto Raptors.

What’s to blame for Miami’s woes? Unfortunately for the HEAT, it’s a number of things.

First of all, they need more from a few of their stars – and it starts at the very top. Jimmy Butler was Miami’s leading scorer in 2019-20, posting 19.9 points per game. But this season, Butler is scoring just 15.8 points per game on a sub-par 44.2 percent shooting. While Butler shot poorly from three-point range last season, too (24.4 percent), he hasn’t connected on a single three-pointer yet in 2020-21. This, coming from a guy who shot 34.7 percent from deep in 2018-19 and 35 percent in 2017-18.

But it’s not just his lack of scoring that’s hurting. Butler is also collecting fewer assists and rebounds as well. He’s averaging only 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, down from 6.7 ad 6.0 last season.

However, Butler’s main struggle this season has nothing to do with any statistic or slump. Butler has missed seven straight games due to COVID-19 protocols. Although to go-scorer wasn’t playing particularly well prior to isolating from the team – scoring in single digits twice – the HEAT are always in better shape if their leader takes the floor with them.

It’s not just Butler either. Tyler Herro also needs to regain his bubble form, at least as far as shooting is concerned. After connecting on 38.9 percent on 5.4 three-point attempts in 2019-20, he’s sinking only 30.2 percent of his 5.3 three-point attempts per game this season.

While Herro is scoring more – 17.2 points per game this season – and doing so more efficiently, he’s doesn’t pose the same threat from deep this season. So while he’s sure to pick it up sooner than later, he must do so to put more pressure on opposing defense.

It’s fair to assume Herro will solve his long-distance shooting woes, but the fact that he’s also struggling from the free throw line is concerning because it speaks more to his form. Herro is still well above the league average, connecting on 76.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, but he shot a scorching 87 percent on free throw attempts last season.

So what’s behind the slump? More importantly, which Herro can the HEAT count on for the remainder of 2020-21? As much as Herro is on track to grow into an incredible player, Miami needs his efficiency to return to last season’s form if they expect to compete. But like Butler, a major part of Herro’s struggles are off the court.

Herro is currently dealing with an injury, having missed the last five games with neck spasms. Coach Erik Spoelstra noted that giving the injured Herro so many minutes before his big layoff likely exacerbated his injuries.

“There’s no telling for sure if this is why Tyler missed these games,” Spoelstra told the South Florida SunSentinel. “But it definitely didn’t help that he had to play and play that many minutes. We didn’t have anybody else at that point. If he didn’t play, then we would have had seven.”

But the HEAT’s struggles are about more than any one player – and that’s a big part of what makes Miami, Miami.

Still, their team stats are equally puzzling, like that the Miami HEAT currently ranks 20th in offensive rating and 23rd in defensive rating. In 2019-20, they were 7th in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating. Obviously, something isn’t translating from last year, but what is it that’s missing?

Firstly, the HEAT are only the 18th best three-point shooting in terms of percentage. Last season, Miami was 2nd by shooting 37.9 percent. Herro returning to his old self should help quite a bit, and Butler making at least a few threes should improve spacing, too.

But it’s not just three-point shooting as the HEAT ranked last in field goal attempts last season, tallying just 84.4 attempts per game. And while they’re last again this season, they’ve managed to average even fewer attempts per game (81.7) despite maintaining nearly all of their roster.

The HEAT are also last in offensive rebounding, which translates to fewer field goal attempts and fewer points. And while Miami was 29th in offensive rebounds last season, they’re corralling 2.1 fewer rebounds this season (6.4) than in  2019-20 (8.5). What’s more, Miami is now last in total rebounds with only 40.9 per game. A number that also represents a fairly significant change as the HEAT were 17th a season ago with 44.4 per game – whew!

Lastly, Miami is turning the ball over more often than nearly any other team – sorry, Chicago – in 2020-21. During the prior campaign, the HEAT were barely middle of the pack, turning the ball over 14.9 times per game, a mark that left them 18th-best in the league. This season, they’re 29th and turning the ball over 17.7 times per game – dead last in terms of turnovers per 100 possessions.

It’s not all bad news for the HEAT, though. Bam Adebayo looks great so far, posting 20.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Second-year stud Kendrick Nunn is averaging 21.5 points on 56 percent shooting through the past four games; while Duncan Robinson is still a flame thrower, shooting 44.4 percent on 8.4 three-point attempts per game.

The HEAT’s upside is still considerable, but it’s easy to wonder if they captured magic in a bottle last season.

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NBA Daily: Lonzo Ball Presents Difficult Decision For Pelicans

Lonzo Ball is struggling early in his fourth NBA season, leaving the Pelicans questioning whether he will be a part of the team’s long-term plans moving forward.

Garrett Brooks

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Lonzo Ball and the New Orleans Pelicans failed to reach an extension prior to the deadline entering the 2020-21 NBA season – which made this season an important year for the former second overall pick to prove his worth.

But things have not gone according to plan for Ball. Originally acquired by the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis trade, Ball has failed to get going early in the current season. After a few years of what seemed like positive progression in the guard’s shooting stroke, this 2021 has brought up the same questions that surrounded Ball in his earlier scouting reports.

In his first three seasons, Lonzo saw his three-point accuracy increase each year. It started at a 30.5 percent accuracy rate and had jumped to an impressive 37.5 by his third NBA season, 2019-20.

Now well into his biggest campaign yet, he sits below 30 percent for the first time in his career, though there is a lot of time left to see that number increase. If Ball expects to be part of the Pelicans’ long-term plans, improvement is absolutely vital.

Obviously, shooting is a key part of the NBA game today, especially as a guard. Simply put, a player needs to give his team the proper floor spacing needed to maximize their scoring output in an offensively driven league.

That point is especially true for Ball, who needs to prove he can play alongside franchise cornerstones Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Both players are showing the skillset to be a dominant one-two punch for years to come, and the biggest need around them is proper floor spacing.

So even with all the positives Ball brings to the defensive side of the floor and as a playmaker, he cannot fit alongside Williamson and Ingram unless he’s a threat to hit shots from behind the arc. He’s obviously trying to prove himself in that regard as he has never averaged more three-point shots per game than he currently is – and yet, the result has been concerning.

When the two sides failed to reach an extension this offseason, it was abundantly clear that the Pelicans needed to see consistency before they’d tie long-term cap space to the guard. In the early going of the season, Ball is perhaps playing his most inconsistent basketball since his rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers.

But will the Pelicans benefit from not signing Ball prior to the season? Maybe even by getting him to agree to a team-friendly contract if his struggles continue all year?

That seems highly unlikely. First off, not all teams are as desperate for a good shooting guard as the Pelicans are. As previously stated, Williamson and Ingram are in place as the franchise cornerstones. That means every player brought in on a long deal from here on out is brought in with the plan to fit alongside the forward combination.

Most teams with cap space don’t have the luxury of already having two franchise cornerstones in place. That means they are more likely to build around a player they sign – that’s especially true for a player that will hit free agency at a young age as will be the case with Ball.

While there’s almost no way the Pelicans won’t make a qualifying offer to Ball this offseason, it becomes a whole different question when pondering if they’ll match any contract he signs, depending on the financials involved.

He’ll offer significantly more value to another franchise than he might to the Pelicans because of the fit. The New York Knicks, for example, will be among the teams with cap space this offseason, they could see Ball as a player they can build things around moving forward.

That instantly makes him much more valued by the Knicks than he currently would be by the Pelicans. Of course, New Orleans would maintain their right to match the contract, but what good would it be if he isn’t going to fit next to the stars of the team? At no point will he be prioritized over the likes of Williamson and Ingram, which means he’s on a ticking clock to prove he can play alongside them as the team continues its ascension.

The first step could be adjustments to the rotation that sees Ball play more of the traditional point guard role with the rock in his hands. This isn’t easy for head coach Stan Van Gundy to do though as Ingram and Williamson thrive with the ball in their hands.

In all likelihood, Ball’s future in New Orleans will hinge on his consistency as a shooter, which, contrary to popular belief, he has shown the ability to do in the past. First off, confidence and staying engaged are keys; while Ball has struggled with both of those things in his early NBA seasons.

The second is an adjustment to his tendencies. Instead of settling for the spot-up opportunity every time it is presented, Ball would benefit from attacking the closeout more often and maximizing the chances that come from doing so.

Those options are in areas like finding the next open man for a three-pointer, getting to the free-throw line and finishing at the rim instead of hitting the deep shot. If he does these things, he’ll quickly find himself facing less aggressive closeouts and will be more confident in his game. Naturally, those things could lead to a more successful shooting number as the season continues on.

Ball is as talented as they come and it’s understandable why the Pelicans want to slide him in behind the two franchise forwards they have. The unfortunate reality is that time is running out on pass-first guard’s big chance to prove it’s the right move for the Pelicans moving forward.

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What We Learned: Western Conference Week 4

Ariel Pacheco

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It’s only been a month, but the NBA season has already seen plenty of ups and downs. In the Western Conference, especially, the 2020-21 season has been a smashing success for some, but a complete and total slog for others.

But which teams have had it the best in the West so far? The worst? Let’s take a look in the latest Western Conference installment of Basketball Insiders’ “What We Learned” series.

The Clippers Hit Their Stride

Los Angeles’ holdovers from a season ago have often pointed to their regular season complacency as to why they fizzled out during last year’s postseason. And, because of that, they’ve made a concerted effort to play hard on every possession so far in the 2020-21 season.

So far, the results have been good. More than good, even; the Clippers, tied for the best record in the NBA with their in-house rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, are on a six-game win streak. Paul George has played like an MVP candidate, while Kawhi Leonard has looked healthy and at the peak of his powers. Offseason additions Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard have all made strong contributions as well.

With so many versatile players and a roster as deep as any in the NBA, anyone can be “the guy” for Los Angeles on any given night. And, tough to guard because of that versatility, they’ve managed the NBA’s second-best offensive rating through the first month.

After last season’s let-down, the Clippers have played without much pressure this season — and it’s showed. Still, with Leonard a potential pending free agent (Leonard can opt-out after the season), it’s paramount that the team play hard and show him they’re good enough to compete for a title in both the short- and long-term.

So far, they’re off to a great start.

Injury Woes Continue in Portland

Portland’s been bit by the injury bug. And badly.

Already without Zach Collins, the Trail Blazers have lost both Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum in recent weeks. They couldn’t have come at a worse time, either; Nurkic had turned a corner after he struggled to start the year, while McCollum, averaging 26.7 points on 62 percent true shooting, was in the midst of a career year.

It would seem, once again, like Portland has put it all on the shoulders of Damian Lillard. But, in a brutally competitive Western Conference, he may not be able to carry that load alone. They do have some solid depth: more of a featured role could be just what Robert Covington has needed to get out of a rut, while Harry Giles III, the former Sacramento King that was signed in the offseason, has a ton of potential if he can just to stay on the court. Carmelo Anthony, Gary Trent Jr. and Enes Kanter should see expanded roles in the interim, as well.

But will it be enough? We can only wait and see. But, if that group can’t keep the Trail Blazers afloat until Nurkic and McCollum can return, Portland could be in for a long offseason.

Grizzlies Are Competitive — With or Without Ja Morant

Memphis, on a five-game win streak, is just a half-game back of the West’s fifth seed. And they’ve managed that despite the sheer amount of adversity they’ve had to deal with to start the year. Jaren Jackson Jr. is expected to miss most of if not the entire season, multiple games have been postponed due to the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols and Ja Morant missed eight games due to an ankle sprain.

However, head coach Taylor Jenkins has the Grizzlies playing hard, regardless of who is in the lineup. They have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA at 106.1 and have managed huge wins over the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.

Of course, Memphis is glad to see Morant over his injury and back in the lineup, but they might be just as happy to see how their entire core has progressed. Their success this season has, in large part, been a group-effort; rookies Xavier Tillman and Desmond Bane have been strong off the bench, while youngsters Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen have all proven integral pieces to the Grizzlies’ core for years to come.

As the year carries on, Memphis might not stick in the playoff picture. But, if their young core can continue to develop, they might not be on the outside looking in for much longer with Morant leading the charge.

What’s Going On In New Orleans?

The Pelicans have struggled and there wouldn’t appear to be an easy fix.

5-9, on a three-game losing streak and having dropped eight of their last nine, New Orleans just can’t seem to figure it out. The rosters fit around cornerstones Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram has proven awkward at best, as the team ranks in the bottom-10 in both offensive and defensive rating. Lonzo Ball has struggled offensively to start the season while JJ Redick can’t find his shot. Newcomer Eric Bledsoe has been fine but, as one of the team’s few offensive creators, his impact has been severely minimized.

Despite their stable of strong defenders, Stan Van Gundy’s defensive scheme, which has maximized their presence in the paint but left shooters wide open beyond the arc, has burned them continuously. Williamson’s effort on the defensive end, meanwhile, has been disappointing at best; he hasn’t looked like nearly the same impact defender he did at Duke University and in short spurts a season ago.

They still have time to work it out, but the Pelicans need to do so sooner rather than later. If they can’t, or at least establish some sort of consistency, New Orleans might never see the heights many had hoped to see them reach this season.

Be sure to check back for the next part of our “What We Learned” series as we continue to keep an eye on the NBA all season long.

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